Cockpit blinders

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Sunday, July 27, 2014


THEY were watching it as they’d watch a cockfight, interesting but not something that’d change their lives,” sociologist. John Carroll, SJ recalls thinking on the eve of People Power 1. At a barricade behind Camp Aguinaldo, “residents of the poor neighborhood drifted into the streets, waiting to see what’d happen.”

Join us or stay back, a friend pleaded. They’d retreat, then drift into the road again, “The crowds at Edsa were mainly middle-class. The urban poor did not see the ongoing conflict as having anything to do with them.”

Father Jack came to a war-shattered Philippines in 1945 as scholastic. After ordination, he taught at Gregorian University in Rome and Cornell University. Back in Ateneo, he served as professor, writer, administrator He established the Institute for Church and Social Issues and, after retirement, continued to serve as senior associate to young Filipinos he mentored.

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He was first and foremost a pastor, serving in the notorious Payatas garbage dump. He conducted a feeding program to improve nutrition, provided scholarships: one child at a time, one scholar at a time. He conducted a Natural Family Planning program. He spoke to them in Pilipino and became a naturalized Filipino citizen.

“Carroll was diligent in analyzing social issues from the lens of faith, one issue at a time,” noted Fr. Roberto Yap of Ateneo. “He was patient in finding feasible solutions to complex social problems, one solution at a time.”

”Change takes time,” Carroll often stressed. “So, there is no time to lose.”

There are three thrusts to Jack Caroll’s work. Lesson No. 1: Social reality is more complex than our theories and social change takes time. Lesson No. 2: Serving the poor is a non-negotiable requirement of discipleship. Lesson No. 3: Always part as friends even with those who disagree.

Fr. Jack was adept at explaining sociological theories that could shed light on the problems afflicting the poor. But he never forced the facts to fit the theories: in society, in politics, in economics. Things are hardly ever black and white, simply good guys and bad guys. Everything and everybody seems to be a mix of good and evil. Real change takes time, which is always in short supply.

Carroll lived what he was convinced of. Charity seeks to give directly to the poor so as to help alleviate their poverty. Justice seeks to correct the structures that help create that poverty. And all are commanded to do both.

“Punishment is not revenge or even justice,” he told the “Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship” conference. It is the community reaffirming values seriously violated. Not to react as a community would be to reduce a “common conscience” to personal preference--and invite collapse.

Willingness to forget Marcos’s crimes reflects weakness of common conscience.

Indeed, “we forget at the cost of betrayal.” Amnesia over past crimes “reflects a weak sense of the nation and of the common good,” he wrote in “A Nation in Denial.” “Unless (the country reaffirms) those values, it may be condemned to forever wander in the valueless power plays among the elite.”

For the past five years, Fr Jack was confined at the Jesuit Infirmary. He passed away July 17. Fr. Caroll’s remains will be interred at the Sacred Heart Novitiate cemetery in Novaliches Monday. He was 90. “Now cracks a noble heart/ May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 27, 2014.

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